By: Joe Travia | Follow me on Twitter @NHLJoeTravia
The Bruins have a problem at the center position. Captain and franchise mainstay Patrice Bergeron is not sure to return, leaving Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, and Tomas Nosek as the only established NHL players at the position on the roster. Jack Studnicka is a Restricted Free Agent and has shown little that suggests he can be a viable option at the NHL level.
Prospects Johnny Beecher and Georgii Merkulov have shown promise but would likely be best served playing big minutes in the AHL for the Providence Bruins next season to continue their development. With so much uncertainty at the position, the Bruins will likely need to turn to the Free Agent market if they want to bring in a legitimate top-six option to either pair with or replace (gulp) Patrice Bergeron. Enter Nazem Kadri.
The 31-year-old Kadri is no stranger to Bruins fans, and I would imagine the suggestion of signing him to a contract will be highly polarizing but hear me out. Kadri is the type of player with a skill set that the Bruins have long preferred. He’s fast. He loves mixing it up on the forecheck. He is also fearless with the puck on his stick.
As I wrote a few weeks ago when I suggested the Bruins look at acquiring Devils forward Miles Wood, the Bruins lack players who are willing to get into the dirty areas and create chances, and players like that are an absolute necessity if you want to have success in the playoffs Watch Kadri’s overtime game winner from game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, does this look like someone who is afraid to get himself into those spots?
If Bergeron doesn’t return, I salivate at pairing a player like Kadri with Brad Marchand. Can you imagine the offensive chances that pair would generate through their tenacity on the forecheck alone? With the offensive talents both possess, I have no doubts that any line with them on it would be high octane. With the speed, forecheck ability, and puck possession skills both Kadri and Marchand possess, they would drive opposing defensemen crazy.
Though his fit on the ice would be seamless, there are some concerns with signing Kadri from a team-building perspective. At the top of the list will be his age and the contract he will likely command coming off a career-best year in Colorado. His 28-59-87 numbers in 71 games eclipsed his previous career high in points that he set in 2016-2017 when he scored 61 points in 82 games for the Maple Leafs.
Kadri will be 32 at the start of next season, so this is probably his last chance to cash in on the open market. I imagine he commands a seven-year deal in the neighborhood of $7-$7.5 million per year. If you are the Bruins, are you comfortable committing that sort of money and term to a player who will likely decline over the final few years of the deal?
It is also fair to wonder if this jump in points this past season was inflated by playing on the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche. With superstar Nathan MacKinnon on the roster, Kadri could stay away from opposing teams’ top D-pairs. That’s not to say he can’t succeed against the tougher matchups, but on a team like the Bruins, he would be getting the full attention of the opponent’s top pair night in and night out. Would Kadri still be able to produce to the level that justifies his next contract? If you pair him with Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak, I would say yes, but it is by no means a sure thing as he ages.
Now on to why I suspect many Bruins fans will want no part of Nazem Kadri. He does a lot of stupid things on the ice. In his 13-year NHL career, Kadri has been suspended a whopping eight times. To put that in perspective, it’s is the same number of suspensions that Brad Marchand has in his career, despite Kadri not being a full-time NHL player until 2012-2013. Bruins fans will remember two of these suspensions very well, as they came against the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs back-to-back years.
He hasn’t exactly cleaned up his act either. In last season’s playoffs, Kadri caught Blues defenseman Justin Faulk with a vicious blindside hit, leading to a match penalty. The NHL suspended him for eight games, marking the third time Kadri had been suspended in the playoffs.
It is worth noting that he stayed out of trouble this season, and his play on the ice was never better. While I hope that means he is starting to figure out how to toe the line, any team that looks into signing him will have to be comfortable with his ability to control himself and avoid suspension-worthy hits.
So, what do you think, Bruins fans? If you’re Don Sweeney, do you offer Kadri a seven-year deal worth 49-52.5 million? I think Kadri would be an excellent fit on the ice, but the risks associated with paying an aging Kadri on the backend of the deal are too significant for me to say yes. Let me know your thoughts!